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Fireplace User’s Guide – HOT TIPS!!

Fireplace User’s Guide – HOT TIPS!!

Alright, today on Repairs101 – hot tips for using a traditional wood burning fireplace.

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Have a professional Chimney Swift inspect your fireplace and chimney before you use it for the first time. I did just that twenty-four years ago when we moved in and he advised that I brick-in the opening of the Ash pit. So I did.


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OK so you’ll need a means of lighting a fire. You’ll need a whisk and a trowel of some kind to clean up the ash. A spark arresting screen. And, of course, my dog’s favorite prehistoric tool – a stick.

If you prepare your own wood you’ll want to have an axe, a bigger axe, a splitting maul and the Lumberman’s secret weapon: a mallet with nylon wedges. And just in case I wasn’t clear, make sure you have firefighting equipment at every exit in your home.


Use dried hardwood for the cleanest burning and highest BTU value. Fresh cut hardwood dries at a rate of about two inches of radius per year. So these fourteen inch pieces would take three and a half years to get dried to the center. So you want to split your firewood into four inch pieces or thereabouts so it will dry within one year. If you move it inside it will dry a lot quicker.

You can make your own kindling like I do here and avoid using newspaper as a fire starter.

There will be a lever or a chain to open and close the damper. Make sure it’s open. Stick your head in there with a flashlight.

Used to be we would take a mirror like this and shove it up into the flue. See if I can get a shot of this – awwwwk. So I shove it up into the flue like this until I can see. There, can you see that?

Failing to open the damper will result in a black stain that cannot be cleaned off.

Some people will leave ash in the fireplace to… well, I don’t know. I guess they think it’s going to help. But you want to clear it all out to provide maximum ventilation.

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I generate a lot of cedar shavings making kitchen utensils and I save the debris for fire starter.

With the damper open, prime the draft using a newspaper torch. Make sure the smoke from the paper is going up the flue. Otherwise you’ll need to open a door, or even two, and even some windows to equalize the indoor barometric pressure with the pressure outdoors.

Safety first

Now never never never build a giant teepee log cabin structure inside your fireplace and then set it ablaze. OK? 

Start small. Add wood gradually and maintain control over the flame and heat.


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